It was the Easter Vigil before my 33rd birthday and I was plagued by a question.
If Baptism does everything it’s supposed to do, why do people fall away?
If my soul was changed when I was baptized as an infant and I became a new creation, how could I be indifferent to God and walk away from him?
Is it the case that sometimes Baptism doesn’t work?
The answer to that question was tied up in my newfound faith and the Easter Vigil where I realized–for the first time in my life–that Jesus was really, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.
I learned about the Eucharist but it didn’t matter
I grew up Catholic and did the whole after school religious education deal. I’m pretty sure I learned about the Real Presence at some point–it just never mattered.
The only real thought I remember having about the Eucharist (and this is shameful) was that it tasted like cardboard.
I also remember being about 12 years old and a little bit indignant that I had to say, “I am not worthy to receive you…” Why wasn’t I worthy? I didn’t like that.
I stopped practicing Catholicism as soon as I was able. By the time I was in college, it was all done.
Eventually, I came back to the Faith
I ended up getting married to a woman in the exact same faith situation as myself…a cradle Catholic who left the Faith in her teens. My wife and I had both our re-version to the Catholic Church the winter before my 33rd birthday.
Our coming back to the Church was like a whirlwind. If you were there and blinked, you might have missed it!
It was probably around January when we started investigating Catholic teaching. By Lent we were praying the rosary every day and going to Mass regularly.
Over the course of that Lent, we became deeper and deeper ensconced in the life of the Catholic community at the base chapel–working with the homeless food ministry, teaching religious education classes on Sundays, and participating in RCIA.
Yeah, we could barely fog a spiritual mirror with supernatural life, but we were asked to teach 3rd grade CCD, and my wife was asked to be a sponsor for RCIA.
She took that RCIA role very seriously. After all, she was also trying to learn.
The night the Eucharist became real for me
So, there we were, standing outside the chapel at the Easter Vigil with Martha, the candidate my wife was sponsoring. It was the first time I had ever been to one.
I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen, but I had tasted the Eucharist before.
I turned to Martha and said, “When I was a kid before I made my First Communion, I always wondered what the bread tasted like.” I continued with a chuckle, “Then I found out. It tastes awful–just like cardboard.”
And just then, it hit me…that was Jesus! He was present in that awful tasting “bread” I was joking about.
I was taken aback, shocked at what I had just said. There was an uneasy look on Martha’s face as well. I just smiled a little and shut up, a bit embarrassed and humbled at what just happened.
I had never believed or cared what the Eucharist really was. That reality didn’t matter at all. However, at that moment, it was everything.
Baptism requires a response of faith
I eventually learned the answer to my question about Baptism. It always works. Just not the way you might think.
Baptism really does reconfigure your soul to accept God’s indwelling presence. You receive sanctifying grace and become a child of God.
And, it can change you from the inside out, totally redirect your thought and actions to God’s way of thinking and being. It can completely transform you into a new creation. But that doesn’t happen automatically.
When infants are baptized, they receive the capacity to believe. That’s the Virtue of Faith. But this capacity lies dormant in an infant, like a seed. It must be activated by a personal Act of Faith–a belief in God animated by hope and love. Only then will the grace of Baptism be unleashed into the soul.
If a child is never led to personal faith, Baptism has virtually no effect. It stays dormant. They’re still baptized but it doesn’t show.
That’s why children must be evangelized! It’s not enough to simply teach them the facts about Jesus. They must come to a personal belief in the saving power of Jesus Christ and accept it into their lives.
I had learned about God but not to believe in him or to desire his power and influence in my life.
When, over the course of that winter, I began to truly desire God and make him an active part of my life–something inside me changed. I began to believe.
Supernatural truths that once were beyond me now became real. And, all of a sudden, standing outside a church before the Easter Vigil, the truth of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist became a substantial reality.
Conversion is an essential element in the catechetical process because without it, you’re just spinning your wheels. Your baptized students have the capacity to believe, but they have a harder time actually believing.
Real belief requires more than comprehending and learning the facts of the Faith. It requires grace. A faith that is alive and active floods the intellect with this grace. And, you won’t get this kind of faith unless you evangelize before (or at the same time) you catechize.